Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Homemade Sauerkraut - Lacto Fermented, No Vinegar!

Dear Folks,

I have posted about making good old fashioned fermented sauerkraut before.  Recently I was visiting with family and I don't remember the reason but I mentioned I make my own sauerkraut and I got a request to bring some Thanksgiving for the family gathering!  Well, why not!

Sauerkraut is not just for hot dogs or Polish foods (my mother's side of the family was all about Polish foods).  Use sauerkraut in any dish or recipe that calls for pickles.  The fermented product is healthy and good for you.

Fermenting (also called lacto fermentation) is just putting vegetables in a strong brine and letting the natural yeast in the air convert the raw cabbage to a nice tasty but not vinegar tangy sauerkraut.  If will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator.

Start by rinsing your cabbage (do not wash or use any cleaning solutions), pull off any damaged outer leaves.  I did something different this time and set aside 1 nice looking leaf - I will explain below.  You will need a large bowl - NOT metal.

Cut the head in half and remove the core.  You may find it works best to half the halves and begin shredding.  You can make the shredded pieces as thick or thin as you like.

For a typical head of cabbage you will need about 5 tablespoons of kosher salt.  More if you have a very large head.  You have the option of adding a tablespoon of whey from yogurt when you assemble the cabbage in the jar.  This can kick start the fermenting but is not necessary.  I use only organic yogurt.  Even with Greek yogurt you can pour off a bit of the whey for this use.

Shred sections of the cabbage, place some in a bowl and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of salt.  Continue adding to the bowl alternating layers of cabbage, sprinkling with salt and finish with salt.  Smooth the cabbage out to make a flat surface and use a plate with a weight to press the bulk down.  Set aside for 2-5 hours.  The cabbage will weep liquid.  This is what you want to happen.

Meanwhile make up your brine.  I now keep a bottle of brine handy if I want to do small batches (I've used this same brine to pickle my caper berries), so I made a quart of brine and used about half of it for this batch.

2 teaspoons of kosher salt for each cup of hot water.   Stir well to dissolve.  The liquid will be cool enough when you are ready to jar up the cabbage for the fermenting.

Use a half gallon or larger glass container. You will also need a pint glass jar as a weight and a light cover to keep dust off.  Many people use dedicated ceramic crocks designed for pickling vegetables, but I like to watch and make sure everything is doing okay.  Sometimes, if the vegetables are not held under the liquid at all times mold may grow on the top.  You can usually just scrape off and discard unless the mold is any other color than white or smells - then you need to dump and start over.

The jars must be sterile or run under very hot water.

The liquid from pressing - will be added to jar.
Start packing the cabbage in the gallon jar, pressing all the while.  Pour liquid from the bowl into the jar.  Then start adding some of the brine.  Remember that extra uncut leaf?  Place over the cabbage inside the jar.  This will help keep the pieces of cabbage from floating up.  Add brine to cover about 1-2 inches over the shredded cabbage.  At this point you can add the whey if you choose to use it.

Small pint jar inside gallon jar to weight down cabbage.
Fill the pint jar about half with cool water and place inside the big jar to act as a weight and keep the cabbage always covered with liquid.  Lightly cover with a plastic cap {looks like a shower cap*), a loose piece of syran wrap or a lint free towel.  The covering is only to keep the dust off.  The fermenting cabbage will produce CO2 and you will see bubbles forming within a few hours.  Place the jar on the counter in a draft free area where the temperature stays constant.  Changes in temperature can impact how long the fermentation takes, with cooler temperatures slowing down the process.

Once or twice a day lightly press down on the inside jar to release the gas.  When there are little or no bubbles - after anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks - your sauerkraut is done and can be capped and refrigerated.  Some people like to taste during the fermenting process.  If you do want taste periodically during the fermenting, use a plastic or wood fork to pull some out.  Metal is a no-no with a brine solution.

The cabbage gradually changes from green to a light yellow color over time, most of the color change occurs after you put in the frig.

Sauerkraut is not just for hot dogs or Polish foods (my mother's side of the family was all about Polish foods).  Use sauerkraut in any dish or recipe that calls for pickles.  The fermented product is healthy and good for you.

My sauerkraut is usually ready in about 10-13 days, in time for Thanksgiving and my family member who requested it. :-)

You can choose to leave the sauerkraut working on the counter for weeks, as long as you ensure there is enough brine to always have all the cabbage covered in liquid.

Like Asian pickled vegetables you can add other things such as spices like caraway seed to the cabbage.  Do some searching on the internet for ideas to come up with your preferred mix.  Have fun.  Once you master sauerkraut you can move on to something like old fashioned pickle barrel dill/garlic pickles - made the same way, without vinegar. The link to my blog post on my fermented pickles is here Fermented Pickle Recipe. It was part of blog post over the holidays on dill.

Cabbage.  On facebook the other day I saw a great recipe for "Baked Cabbage Steaks".  I always try to find the author of any recipe etc. I post but all I found were multiple versions with differing oven temps and how thick you cut the slices.  If anyone finds the original author, I would appreciate it.

Meanwhile give this delicious and healthy side dish a try.

Baked cabbage steaks.  Preheat oven 400 wash and remove outer leaves trim stem off, cut 1 to 1 1/2 inch steaks brush both sides with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper both sides bake 30 to 40 minutes I like mine at 40 min [author note] so edges start to brown. has a similar version. 

I hope you enjoy making your own sauerkraut!

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen.

*  The plastic cap which looks like a shower cap is an old fashioned way to cover food bowls. NOT for use in microwaves.  They are available in many places on the internet including Amazon.  I tried to find ones made in the US but could not.  I highly recommend them.  I have had my box of them for years and simply rinse with soapy water and let air dry in the dish rack.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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